Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans
RETA to Appeal AUC Heartland Line Decision
AUC Heartland Power Line Decision to be Appealed
(Sherwood Park) November 28, 2011. The decision released November 1, 2011 by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) on the proposed Heartland Transmission Project reflects a colossal failure on the part of the Alberta Government and Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) to plan, manage and regulate electricity transmission in Alberta.
RETA will be filing requests to have the AUC decision reviewed. These appeal requests will be made directly to the AUC, and most probably to the Alberta Court of Appeal.
“Now that we have had an opportunity to read the full AUC decision, we are extremely disappointed,” said Bruce Johnson, President of RETA. “The decision to not bury the transmission line was based on the AUC’s perspective that it is not in the public interest. It is curious how spending nearly $600 million on a line that has no identifiable need is in the public interest but then doing it in a way that doesn’t see thousands of homeowners lose as much as 40% of the value of their homes is not in the public interest.
“And furthermore, the decision was based on phantom costs conjured up by AltaLink and EPCOR rather than on the real costs that would have come out of a competitive bidding process,” continued Johnson. “Basing this decision on a number fabricated by a company that has never built 500kV underground transmission lines before, and whose Montreal-based parent SNC-Lavalin stands to gain substantially from building the towers if the line doesn’t go underground, is frankly a farce.”
The decision by the AUC is the culmination in a series of mistakes and biases by the Alberta Government, AESO, AltaLink and EPCOR.
The first mistake and bias was the AESO’s 2008 electricity transmission plan for the province, where they dubiously portrayed the need for the Heartland line by suggesting that nine bitumen upgraders to be built in the Industrial Heartland needed electricity from coal-fired generation at Wabamun. There is now only one upgrader being built because oilsands companies have found it more economical to ship raw bitumen from Fort McMurray to the United States by pipeline. The real irony is, any upgraders that might actually get built in the Heartland region will co-generate their own electricity and therefore will not need the coal-fired electricity from Wabamun that the Heartland line will transmit.
The Alberta Government has passed numerous new laws and amended numerous existing laws to streamline the process of building new electricity transmission infrastructure at the expense of public consultation, landowners’ rights and environmental oversight.
In 2008, the Alberta Government exempted all new high voltage power lines from requiring formal environmental impact assessments. New high voltage lines now require no scrutiny of potential environmental and health impacts by Alberta Environment and Alberta Health and Wellness.
Inspite of province-wide protests by landowners, the Alberta Government then passed Bill 19, the Land Assembly Project Area Act, in early 2009, which makes it much easier for the government to designate private land for high voltage power lines and in fact sterilize private land for this purpose.
Also in spite of province-wide opposition, the Alberta Government passed Bill 50, the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, 2009, which removed any public, industry and AUC role in reviewing the need for new high voltage power lines. The Alberta Cabinet now decides unilaterally and at its sole discretion, which new lines are needed and approximately where they will be built, leaving only the fine-tuning of precise routing to the AUC. In fact, it appears as if Premier Redford can make this decision all by herself as she illustrated a number of weeks ago when she overturned a decision to review the Heartland line by her Energy Minister.
The MLAs within whose constituencies the Heartland line will be built have let their constituents down by not actively representing the concerns of their residents who will be directly and adversely impacted whether that be health, safety, property values or local environment. These MLAs are Naresh Bhardwaj, Iris Evans, Jeff Johnson, David Quest, Peter Sandhu, Tony Vandermeer and Gene Zwozdesky.
The Alberta Department of Energy and the AESO have been biased from the outset regarding the Heartland line, and have worked closely with the transmission industry, rather than concerning themselves with any input or concerns from the Alberta public, industry and business community. In fact, during the AUC Heartland line hearing, many examples were provided of just how closely the government, AESO and power companies work together, often making it impossible to determine who is actually calling the shots.
AltaLink and EPCOR have been extremely biased from the outset of their public consultation process. They sent out incorrect routing information to residents, did not interview many homeowners who will be directly and adversely impacted, critical information was withheld from landowners, treated rural and urban homeowners differently, intimidated landowners, and changed their power line routing and tower height proposals many times during the public consultation process, during the hearing, and even following the hearing. It got to the point where homeowners did not know where the actual line was being proposed or whether the towers would be 60 metres high or 77 metres high; or whether they would be lattice towers or monopole towers.
The most consistent complaint by interveners throughout the AUC hearing was how poorly the applicants had conducted their public consultation process. One intervener summarized this fact well by stating that the applicants had not been “consulting”, rather they had been “insulting”; and their public consultation process had been a “giant farce”.
As well, the applicants’ expert testimony at the AUC hearing was provided by visual impact, health, property value and other consultants hired by AltaLink and EPCOR, and who are in the business of testifying for transmission companies on a regular basis for very handsome hourly fees. Cross examination of many of these experts by interveners revealed just how biased their testimony was.
Interveners expected the AUC to weigh all of the evidence fairly within the context of developing a decision that was in the best public interest, as they are mandated by law to do. However, the primary interest that appears to have been addressed and satisfied in this decision is that of AltaLink and EPCOR, at the expense of the true “public interest”.
The close to 5,200 homes (over 15,000 residents), several schools and daycares, a hospital, and many businesses that will be directly and adversely impacted by the Heartland line and the AUC’s decision will be hit with a double whammy – they will have to pay 100% of the cost of this line along with other Albertans, plus they will have to suffer the negative health, safety, property value and overall quality of life impacts of the overhead line.
Johnson continued, “The Heartland line will be the largest power line project ever built in Alberta and will have negative impacts on thousands of nearby residents, businesses and schools of such significant magnitude not ever experienced before in our province. These towers will be twice as high as any others in Alberta– 253 feet tall – which is about the height of the EPCOR Building in downtown Edmonton. We presented evidence at the hearing to show that the capital cost of a partially buried Heartland line could be as little as 15% more than an entirely above-ground line and that when capital, maintenance and transmission loss costs are combined over the life of the line, a buried line might actually be cheaper than an overhead line. This information has been ignored.”
“The decision to build the Heartland line above ground reflects badly on Alberta. We have been betrayed by the Alberta Government, AESO, AltaLink and EPCOR. We must appeal the AUC decision”, concluded Johnson.
RETA is a non-profit society with about 9,000 members that encourages responsible electricity transmission in Alberta. Responsible transmission includes determining whether specific new high voltage power lines are necessary, and if they are truly shown to be necessary, burying them whenever they run close to homes, schools, daycares, hospitals and environmentally sensitive areas. And, if new lines are not buried in these situations, then those who are directly and adversely impacted must be fairly compensated on the basis of replacement value (not market value which is reduced as soon as a high voltage line is proposed in the community).
For more information, see April 12 – July 11, 2011 blogs at www.RETA.ca or contact:
Bruce Johnson, President, RETA: 780-902-9511 (cell)
John Kristensen, VP Technical, RETA: 780-467-1432 (home); 780-722-9866 (cell)